The effects of neurotrophins on intracellular Ca2+ levels in rat hippocampal neurones were studied in vitro using fura-2 fluorescence microscopy. BDNF and NT-3, but not NGF, rapidly increased cytoplasmic Ca2+ concentrations in these neurones ten-fold to reach 1 microM. Moreover in some of the neurones both BDNF and NT-3 elicited Ca2+ responses, indicative of the presence of functional receptors for these neurotrophins in the same cell. In these cultures approximately 80% of the hippocampal neurones were stained with antibodies against full-length TrkB. The expression of functional TrkB was also confirmed by RNA analysis. These results demonstrate the presence of functional receptors for BDNF and NT-3 in hippocampal neurones.